This post was updated April 20th, 2017
When it comes to buying tickets for Walt Disney World, I have good news and bad news. First some good news: there are a bunch of ways to save money on theme park tickets!
Now some bad news: tickets are likely going to be the single biggest expense of your trip. They are downright pricey at $394 for a base 5-day adult ticket.
But don’t worry, there is one more piece of good news. You will get incredible value from the money you spend on tickets to Walt Disney World, as there is real bang for your buck in the parks!
In this post I’ll share eight tips & tricks for saving money on your tickets to the theme parks of Walt Disney World (WDW).
#1: Don’t Buy More Ticket Than You Need
First, here are some ticket basics. A base ticket to Walt Disney World is called a “Magic Your Way” ticket. It lets you enter one park (and one park only) each day for a particular number of days. You can also add the “Park Hopper” option to your ticket, which allows you to visit more than one park on a single day.
I almost always recommend sticking with the Magic Your Way base ticket as opposed to adding on any options. Here’s why: adding the Park Hopper option to any 4-day or more ticket costs $75, but adding an additional day to a 4-day or more ticket costs $20.
So if you want an extra half day visit to the Magic Kingdom, just add one more day to your ticket and go for part of your arrival or departure day. Your price difference will be $55 per ticket by doing this, which adds up to a savings of $220 for a family of four, and you will get just as much time in the parks.
As of February 12th, 2017, you can no longer add “Water Parks Fun & More” as a stand-alone option. If you purchase a Park Hopper, you can add the “Park Hopper Plus” and add a set number of visits to the water parks to your ticket for $15. If you are already buying the Park Hopper tickets and have any interest in visiting the water parks, this is great way to do it for little extra money.
So, for most visitors, the base Magic Your Way ticket offers the best value and plenty of options for visiting the theme parks on your own schedule. If you were planning a 5-night, 6-day trip to Disney World, I would recommend either a 5- or 6-day Magic Your Way ticket. Not because I think you should spend 6 full days in the theme parks – goodness no! Extra days offer you the chance to visit the parks at a more leisurely pace for half days instead of trying to go commando-style, park-hopping from dusk til dawn.
#2: Use Discounted Disney Gift Cards to Save up to 15% on Tickets
Since you can use Disney gift cards to purchase your park tickets from Disney, I suggest purchasing gift cards at a discount to save money on your park tickets.
BJ’s Wholesale Club sells $100 Disney gift cards for $95 on their website. You DON’T need to be a member to purchase these gift cards, and there is no tax or shipping charges added to the total cost! So right away, here is an easy way to save 5% off the cost of your tickets.
If you use a cash back credit card to pay for your purchase, you can save even more on your tickets. For example, the Discover It Cash Back card is a no-annual fee card that earns 5% cash back in rotating categories throughout the year. From January through the end of June 2017, card holders have been able to get 5% cash back on purchases from Wholesale Clubs such as BJ’s.
Additionally, cardholders will have their cashback doubled at the end of their first year. This turns your 5% savings into 10%, though you won’t get the savings until the end of your first year, and only for your first year. Add this 10% cash back to the 5% you’ll save from BJ’s and you’ve saved 15% on the cost of these gift cards!
You can read about this strategy in more detail in this post. A family of four would save $225 on five-day tickets using this approach, so is can add up to substantial savings.
#3: Buy Discounted Tickets From a Trusted Ticket Broker
If you are not getting tickets as part of a Disney vacation package (such as a free dining package) and you don’t want to bother with using discounted gift cards to get your tickets, then I suggest using a trusted ticket broker such as Undercover Tourist. Why? To save money, of course. 🙂
I suggest using Undercover Tourist because they are reputable and almost always offer the best ticket discounts around. I have bought tickets from one other broker in the past for a slightly lower price, but then had all kinds of problems with the email delivery of the voucher. You are better off sticking with a well-established business such as Undercover Tourist.
The prices on the Disney website for park tickets do not include tax, which can be misleading as the tax rate is a significant 6.5%. Prices on the Undercover Tourist site include taxes and shipping, so what you see is the total cost you’ll pay for your tickets. You will be able to link your tickets to your My Disney Experience account and make FastPass+ reservations without any trouble.
If you are buying anything from a 3 day ticket to a 10 day ticket, you can save from $10 -$59 per ticket just by buying your tickets ahead of time through from Undercover Tourist. On average I’ve saved about $20 per ticket.
Though this isn’t a huge savings, it can add up to over $100 for a family of four, and any little bit helps when it comes to park tickets. I recommend ordering your tickets several months below your trip so you are able to book FastPasses at the 60-day window (or 30 days if you are staying off-property).
If you are only buying a 1 or 2 day ticket, buy them from Disney as they will be slightly cheaper. Also, you may notice that Disney advertises that you’ll save $20 when you buy 3+ day park tickets ahead of time from them. You’ll save more than this when you purchase ahead of time from Undercover Tourist, so I recommend that.
Alternatively, if you are a AAA member, you might be able to get a discount on certain tickets. I called my local AAA office and they confirmed that they did have discounted Disney World tickets for sale. When I compared their prices with those of Undercover Tourist, the only ticket that significantly differed in price was a 3-day base ticket. AAA offered this ticket for $8.15 less than Undercover Tourist’s prices, so a savings of $32.60 for a family of four. If that is the ticket type you want or if you prefer to get your tickets through AAA, try giving your local office a call. I have read that not every local AAA office has these tickets available, though I can’t confirm that myself.
#4: Buy Tickets Before the Annual Price Increase
As you could probably guess, ticket prices rise reliably each year. In recent years, Disney hasn’t even waited a year before raising prices. If you know that you will be going to Disney, a money-saving tip is to buy tickets for an upcoming trip before ticket prices increase.
Disney theme parks tickets purchased this year won’t expire until the end of 2018. Most people plan a trip to Disney well in advance. If you know you are taking a trip in November, yet ticket prices are going to rise in March, buy your tickets before the price increase to save anywhere from $5 to $25 per ticket. Just subscribe to The Frugal South email newsletter and I will be sure to let you know when ticket prices are going to increase!
Please note that once you use your ticket for the first time, you have 14 days to use up all of your “days”. They don’t have to be consecutive, but you have to use all of your visits within 14 days of your first use or they will expire.
#5: Take Your Kids Before They Turn Three
Being the world’s #1 family vacation destination, it is not surprising that Disney World caters to families with young children. While many entertainment venues start charging admission when kids turn two years old (some even start when they turn one!), you can take your little ones to the Disney theme parks for free up until their third birthday. Many families take advantage of this policy and plan a trip right before their child turns three!
We did this ourselves and it was one of our favorite trips. You don’t have to show any proof of age when taking the little ones into the parks as Disney operates on the honor system. So if you want to take your kiddo on his/her first trip to Disney World during the toddler or preschool years, I suggest doing so just prior to junior’s third birthday to save yourself a few hundred dollars.
#6: Consider Special Event Tickets for Shorter Trips
One frustrating aspect of visiting the parks during a shorter trip is that 1-day and 2-day park tickets are so darn expensive per day. Prices don’t start to drop much below $100/day until you hit the 4-day and up mark. Obviously this is to encourage folks to make longer visits, but that’s just not possible for everyone. If you are planning a short trip anytime from September through December, you may want to consider buying a ticket for one of the special events held at the Magic Kingdom during those months.
On select evenings in September and October, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is held at the Magic Kingdom. It is a “hard-ticketed” event, which means you need a special ticket to enter the park – these tickets start at $72. Most main attractions are open, plus the party features parades, stage shows, character meet and greets, complimentary food and more. The official time for the party is from 7 p.m. to midnight, though many folks don’t know that you can actually enter the Magic Kingdom any time after 4 pm with your special event ticket.
So you can get a full eight hours in the magic Kingdom during the party (if you can hang until midnight) with much lower crowds than normal. Plus, with 1-day Magic Kingdom tickets now around $120 each, you’ll save close to $50 per person by visiting during the party. That would save you about $200 for a family of four!
In November and December Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, a similar hard-ticketed event, takes place in the Magic Kingdom. Tickets to this popular event start at $78. I plan on taking my daughter to one of these at some point when she is a bit older and we can make a short trip down during the fall or winter. These events are a great way to save on park admission if you are a frequent visitor, want to spend some time in the Magic Kingdom, and don’t want to cough up $120 for a 1-day pass.
#7: If You Qualify, Take Advantage of the Best Discounts
The best discounts that Disney offers on park tickets are for Florida residents and members of the Armed Forces. If you are a Florida resident, check out all of the discounts available here, which include discounted Magic Your Way base tickets through discounted annual passes.
If you are an active or retired member of our military, first of all, thank you for your service. Second, you can get a fantastic discount on Disney World park tickets for yourself, your family or friends. Until 12/19/2016, military members can get up to six 4-day Park Hopper tickets for only $208 each (regularly $393). You can read all of the details here. If you have a friend or family member who qualifies for the discount, let him/her know. They may be up for a trip and may be willing to get you some discounted tickets, too!
Well, I hope you found at least one trick that you can actually use to save money on park tickets to the most magical place on Earth! Any questions? Please leave a comment below!